When giving testimony in court, participants must take an oath pledging that they are telling the truth. Failure to provide truthful testimony can end up in an accusation of perjury.
Because it is a serious crime, it is important for those providing testimony to understand exactly what lying under oath entails. Here are the four elements of perjury and what they actually mean.
Taking an oath
Taking an oath in a court of law requires you to speak truthfully when answering a question. Accordingly, consenting to an oath and declaring your intention to speak truthfully automatically satisfies this element.
Willfully giving a false statement
Proving that a person gave a false statement is a bit more complicated. For instance, providing a statement that attempts to evade the truth without specifically going against it may not meet the definition of lying under oath. The question asked must be completely clear-cut, and the response must be an attempt to conceal the truth.
Knowing that the statement is false
Additionally, the person providing the statement under oath must know that it is false when they are giving it in court. If the person is not aware of the truth and believes their statement is factually based according to their knowledge of the situation, perjury may not apply. It is possible to recant a false statement upon learning of it. However, the recanting must occur in the same court and must not have affected the outcome of the proceedings.
The false statement involves a material fact
Material facts have a direct impact on the court case in progress. For instance, a false statement that counters a material fact that plays a major role in the decision of a judge or jury counts as perjury. The same can is true of any false statements that call the credibility of witnesses into question.
As illustrated by these four elements, perjury cases are rarely cut and dried. It is possible to give a statement that is technically untrue without actually committing a crime.